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2016-17 Player Preview: Buddy Hield primed to win the Rookie of the Year Award

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The stars might be aligning for Buddy Buckets in his rookie campaign.

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

While preparing to write this player preview for Buddy Hield, I quickly realized that I was so focused on his game that I didn't even know the real name of the New Orleans Pelicans highest profile acquisition since Anthony Davis. Buddy Hield was born Chavano Rainier Hield. The Bahamian baller was given the nickname Buddy by his mother who got the idea from the 90's television show Married with Children — which had a character named Bud Bundy. While Bud was a good guy, basketball fans are hoping Buddy plays more like Al Bundy during his illustrious football career at Polk High.

Nineties T.V. aside, Pelicans fans are waiting with baited breath to see how Buddy's jaw dropping college game translates to the Association. It felt like many fans and people around the league lowered expectations for Hield following a rocky showing in summer league. In my opinion this was unwise. Summer league is nothing more than a dress rehearsal meant to allow teams to get an early look at their youngsters. In fact, the substandard performance may have done more to light a fire under Buddy rather than foretell some long term deficiency in his game.

For most players, how their career plays out depends in large part on what team they land on and what role they are given early. Is anyone certain that Kawhi Leonard would have turned into Kwahi Leonard had he gone to the Sacramento Kings? Maybe, but from what I have read about how the Spurs challenged him to be great, I don't think so.

Developing Buddy Love

For all his perceived weaknesses, Monty Williams had a strong track record developing young players. Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez, Alexi Ajinca, and of course Davis, are just a few players that come to mind. Most didn’t mature into world beaters, but many performances under Monty were all improvements over previous stops in their career (thanks to Dell, Monty rarely had rookies to develop). We don't yet know how Alvin Gentry and his staff will develop young players as they didn't have a first round pick last year. That said, guys like Robert Pack, Kevin Hanson and associate head coach Darren Erman all have strong player development reputations around the league. In addition, Gentry often brags about the improvement guys like Raja Bell made under his tutelage. In my opinion, Gentry's system is absolutely perfect for Hield and after working with the Pels solid coaching staff for a few months, he is already showing signs of improvement.

It's a small sample size given that it consists of only the summer league and 4 meaningless pre-season games but Buddy has flashed the ability to shoot off screens a la former Gentry disciple J.J. Redick. Gentry has mentioned using Buddy in this way since the day they drafted Hield out of Oklahoma. The interesting thing, though, is Buddy has provided more than expected in other departments like rebounding — which the Pels sorely need. Again, small sample size alert, but look at how Buddy's pre-season performance compares to Kris Dunn who many have as the front runner for the 2017 Rookie of the Year (All stats via stats.nba.com).

MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3FG% FT%
Buddy Hield (4 games) 25.6 12.8 4.0 2.5 47.6% 35.3% 100%
Kris Dunn (5 games) 23.6 4.8 3.2 4.4 22.2% 12.5% 71.4%

This doesn't preclude Kris Dunn will be a disaster all season, but it's all we've got to go on right now. In addition, Hield is posting a near league average 14.1 PER (league avg is 15.00) compared to Dunn's 2.0 PER. If the Pelicans can get this kind of performance out of Hield in his first season, they should be thrilled as most NBA rookies start their careers well below average.

Buddy's On A Role

Another major factor for rookies, or any player for that matter, is role. The best franchises put players in a position to succeed. The good coaching staffs do their best to hide deficiencies while accentuating the players strengths. Luckily for Pels fans, Gentry is a master at getting the most out of shooters and Buddy was hands down the best shooter in the draft.

With E’Twaun Moore off to a fast start, it appears initially Hield may come off the bench for the Pelicans — so far he's been a reserve in all four preseason games. In my opinion Gentry would be making the right call bringing Buddy off the bench. This strategy does two things: hides Hield's defensive decencies, and allows Buddy to gain confidence in games playing against second units. If a dynamite shooter like Hield gets confidence early, the association better look out.

Rookie of The Year?

With the unfortunate injury to the 76ers Ben Simmons, the rookie of the year race is wide open right now. Buddy Hield will have as much opportunity to win this award as any rookie in this year's class. Hield is likely to get something in the neighborhood of 25 minutes per game to start, in an offense designed to get great shooters open shots. If Buddy can get comfortable early and the shots fall through at a good rate, his role could increase to something more than just a very important weapon off the bench for the Pelicans.

Even if Hield puts the ball in basket, he'll have to hope that the Pels can at least show signs of significant improvement for him to be considered. National pundits reward team success over guys putting up numbers on bad teams. This might be a bit of a minority opinion, but I honestly think Buddy will either win or be very close to winning the RoY Award this season. He's got a skill that the national media loves (shooting), a lovable personality, and an offensive scheme that will get him plenty of open looks against opponents second units.

New Orleans desperately needs another young star to help Anthony Davis. The best way to acquire these types of players is via the draft. If Hield can develop into another young star, the Pelicans may make a push for the playoffs and have a much brighter outlook for the franchise this time next year. Buddy Hield has the potential to light up a score board and I'm sure he'll have a few games this year where he's unstoppable from three. This and his happy go lucky/hard working personality will make the former Oklahoma star a fan favorite in New Orleans. We all know he can shoot, but whether he can contribute consistently in other areas may determine if Buddy's buddies make the playoffs or not.

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